Private Matt Duffy wakes up one morning in a hospital ward in Baghdad’s Green Zone with scrambled brains and scrambled memories. He’s awarded a Purple Heart before he can even remember exactly what he did to earn it. Matt just knows there was an alley he wasn’t supposed to be in, an Iraqi boy who wasn’t supposed to be there, and a rocket propelled grenade that was supposed to hit him—but didn’t, though it knocked him around pretty bad. Now Matt has to piece together the broken bits of his memory to try and establish what happened in the alley that day. But the higher ups don’t seem to be looking into his story too closely and Matt starts to wonder if they want to learn the truth—or bury it. Soon Matt rejoins his unit, happy to be back with his friends but troubled by the fact that he still doesn’t know exactly what went down the day his world exploded. What did he do? Did he run? Did he hide? Did he cover his buddies? Did he…kill someone? With a minimum of words and a maximum of heart, Patricia McCormick tells one young soldier’s story that could be every young soldier’s story. “It wasn’t about fighting the enemy. It wasn’t about politics or oil or even about terrorists. It was about your buddies; it was about fighting for the guy next to you. And knowing he was fighting for you.” Matt’s feelings and observations are sincere and very real, based on McCormick’s extensive research and interviews. With only a few words, she quietly captures small moments that bring the war right up out of the pages. Like when Matt sees orderlies coming down the hall pushing a gurney with a body bag. “Still, he kept his head erect, his back stiff, his mouth set in a straight line as the gurney got closer. Then, just as it passed by, he flinched.” When Matt finally does learn the truth about what happened that day, he begins to realize that the black and white war he believed he was fighting is much grayer than he could have ever imagined. This sobering psychological mystery pulls no punches. Want to learn more about what it’s like on the ground in Iraq? An excellent nonfiction follow-up is The Good Soldiers by David Finkel.
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick